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Coaches Blog

Sam's Blog is a bi-weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Coaching Director for US Youth Soccer.

 

Player Behavior

Sam Snow

I coach a soccer team made up of 13 and 14 year old boys. I have a couple of players that are "bratty." They want to do what they want; they roll their eyes when being coached or whistle when the coach is talking to them. Should I give in to them or kick them off the team?
 
On a number of different levels, the early teens are a challenging age group to coach. It is a normal part of this age to test and push the limits of those with authority over them – parents, teachers and yes, soccer coaches too. Nevertheless, when it comes to team behavior coaches should follow this saying, "The standards you get are the standards you set."
 
In this instance I would not go to either extreme of giving in to them or cutting them from the team. The next time one of them behaves inappropriately in front of the team, coaches or team manager, then immediately pull that player aside individually and address the matter directly. The head coach must make it clear to the player what behaviors are unacceptable in the culture of the team. Do not punish the player at this time. Be matter of fact in the tone you take and with your body language. Your goal here is twofold. First, you must begin to modify the player(s) behavior; and secondly, you want to keep the player(s) in the team. If the player(s) act out again during that training session or match, then remind the player of what had just been discussed. Be consistent in your expectations of the players. But don’t harp on it either. Don’t take the misbehavior personally—it is kids testing limits. That testing is sometimes a youngster’s way of finding out if this adult authority figure really does care about them.
 
If the inappropriate behavior continues after a week or two of the coach addressing it directly with the player, then ask the parents to be involved in the next discussion with the player. Ask the parents to support mature behavior by their child so that it benefits the team, respects the staff and aids in the growth of the player.
 
If the behavior still does not improve, involve the club director of coaching and/or the club president in the discussion with the player and parents. After that step is taken and if the misbehavior continues then, the club makes the decision to release the player from the club. This is the final step and hopefully all options have been exhausted before dropping a youth player. Our overarching goal in all of youth soccer must be to keep kids in the game for a lifetime.
 
I think another analysis of the inappropriate behavior should be reflection by the coach on the training methods being used. The seed of the problem could be poor coaching and/or management of the training environment. Sometimes young players act out when the coach fails to avoid the three L’s: lines, laps and lectures. Coaches should avoid these actions during a training session. When these actions are present in a training session it is not only inefficient use of training time, but it is also boring. The kids came to training to play soccer. They did not show up to stand with the coach and talk about soccer, stand in a long line waiting to kick the ball one time and then go to the back of the line or to run laps around the field. They came to training to PLAY soccer! When coaches move away from drills in training sessions and instead use game-like activities then the players are fully engaged physically and mentally. The challenges of game-like activities and the problem solving situations they present are not only fun, but they help players develop to a higher level of soccer. Take it a step further and have the players who have been acting out to be the leaders in some of the activities. Ask them questions during the training session that cause them to think deeply about the game, give them leadership responsibilities and challenge the limits of their talents. When the abilities of these players are met with an appropriate soccer challenge then it is likely that the misbehavior will disappear.
 
A coach can tell the difference between a drill and an activity by using the activity checklist. Whenever you put together a lesson plan for a training session ask yourself these questions:
 
  • Are the activities fun?
  • Are the activities organized?
  • Are the players involved in the activities?
  • Is creativity and decision making being used?
  • Are the spaces used appropriate?
  • Is the coach’s feedback appropriate?
  • Are there implications for the game?
 
Soccer is easy to teach to children because many of them already know a good deal about it and many simply enjoy the sport. Simple principles, professional organization, appropriate incentives, and unlimited encouragement—-any coach worth the name can hardly fail. Even more important, he or she will gain enormous gratification from the pleasure and satisfaction gained by the children.

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Mixed gender pick-up games

Sam Snow

A coach wrote in with this scenario: "Good afternoon, Sam. I am a member of a youth travel club which is experiencing some growing pains and differences of opinions among the board members and coaching staff.
 
The main concern, for today at least, is mixed age and mixed gender scrimmages within out club. We have had a case where a U14 boy’s team "scrimmaged" a U10 girl’s team. I use quotations on the word scrimmage as there were many restrictions on the boys with none on the girls and several coaches were present and some even on the field to supervise and ensure things did not get out of hand.
 
I would like to ask for your opinion on this. Is there any benefit that outweighs the risk of injury (both physical and psychological) to the younger players? What would be the appropriate age/gender gap for such a scrimmage?"
 
There are indeed benefits to pick-up games with mixed ages and even mixed age groups. However, the range of ages must be prudent. If the scrimmage had indeed been in the neighborhood or on the recess ground at school, the odds are good that 14-year-old boys would not have included 10-year-old girls in their game. I suggest that when coaches do arrange for a scrimmage with another age group and/or gender that they keep it within the three stages of biological growth that pertain to youth soccer.
 
1.            Childhood – 4 to 9 years old
2.            Puberty – 10 to 14 years old
3.            Adolescence – 15 to 19 years old
 
These are the general ages of each stage. Some persons will enter a stage sooner or later than their peers.
Sam

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Youth Awards

Sam Snow

A youth coach asks:

"I am looking for some guidance on coaching Under-9 boys’ soccer. Specifically, is it acceptable to give out player recognition/accomplishment awards to some players (i.e. sportsmanship, MVP, coaches award etc.). I was advised by one parent that soccer is a team sport and these types of awards should not be used. Can you comment on this or provide me with a reference from which I can get some advice? I would not want to use this type of player recognition if not advisable by your organization."

I think that for 8 and 9-year-old kids the focus should be on their participation in the game, growing their love of the game, making friends in the team, getting healthy exercise and learning some life skills along with soccer skills. The coaches giving recognition for good play during training sessions and after a match to individuals is fine, as opposed to a formalized awards ceremony. I also suggest that during the course of the soccer season you look for a chance to give public praise to each kid on the team.

Additionally, a private word of encouragement, recognition or praise will go a long way in building self-confidence. But, it has to be earned and sincere; no cheerleading so to speak.

If you want to have an end of the season picnic for the team and its supporters that would be the time for public recognition of group accomplishments.

Generally wait until the teenage years to give individual awards as you describe in your message, as it will then mean more to the players. They will have achieved at this age a better understanding of the award and its significance.

Comments (2)

 

Practicing at Home

Sam Snow

My 10-year old son plays soccer and loves to play and go to the team practices. He is in good programs with good coaches, but he doesn't want to practice between team practices and work on things the coaches have given him to improve on. When I do get him to practice at home, and point out that he isn't doing what his coaches have taught him and we end up arguing.
Am I expecting too much from a 10 year old?
When he does practice, should I just let him practice the wrong way, as long as he is practicing, and let his coaches worry about getting him to improve?
- a concerned parent
 
There are a few important factors in this scenario to consider.  The most important one is the child’s self-motivation.  For an athlete to become top class in any sport requires a lot of drive and determination.  That must come from within.  No one else can put those emotions into the player, only he or she can produce those qualities.  However, the right soccer environment can inspire those emotions to grow in a young player.  Coaches, teammates and parents should inspire young players to practice and play more on their own.  Yes, parents could force the issue and make a young player put in extra practice, but the results will fall short of the results that come from the player deciding on his or her own to put in the same extra time with the ball.
If the coach has given players soccer homework then by all means parents should remind their child to do that assigned practice.  Fundamentally approach it as you do with the child’s academic homework.  Specifically to the question of if he does practice but he’s doing it wrong the answer is yes.  If the child asks for assistance then help out, otherwise let him or her practice on their own.  If technique mistakes are being made then the coach can help the player to correct them at the team training sessions.  The most important point is the child’s decision to get out on his or her own to play the game and practice ball skills.  That’s when parents give praise!

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